I'm a native New Yorker and sewing fanatic! I started sewing in 2009 and today make all my own clothes using vintage sewing machines and vintage patterns, in addition to sewing for private clients. Welcome to the warm and whimsical world of Male Pattern Boldness, where the conversation is sewing, style, fashion, fabric, and more!
With the new year, I've decided it's time for a sewing machine inventory!
It's always good to remind yourself what you have, not to mention to vacuum the back of your closets. So here's what I have as of 2019. I'll split them into groups: the machines I use most often, the machines I'd like to use but haven't in a while, and everything else.
The Machines I Use Most Often I'm often asked what machine I've used to complete a particular project and why I chose that machine. Often the answer is simply that the machine in question was already set up and ready to sew. When a machine is tucked away in a closet, no matter how fine a machine it is, it's unlikely to be used. It's sad but true.
My 15-91 is not my most beautiful machine but it's the machine I've had the longest. An eBay purchase, it was rewired and tuned up a couple years later by my friend Rain Noe. It's the straight stitcher I use most often because it's incredibly reliable as well as easy to maintain. The only thing I don't like about these old black Singer straight stitchers is that the stitch length is hard to control (for me): the numbers are hard to read on the machine and the lever feels much less precise than a dial. Otherwise, I have no complaints. An "A."
Since I had it tuned up last summer, my Bernina 930 works perfectly. I'll be honest, though: I don't have the same warm feelings toward it that I have toward my older machines and I find the piercing power to be almost too intense: this is the machine I break the most needles with, not that I break many needles. I never use the fancy embroidery stitches but it has quite a few. I even use it to sew on buttons when I need to sew them on by hand. But overall it's an "A" machine. It's also the one I paid the most for.
Janome Hello Kitty
I know it sounds crazy given the number of lovely vintage machines I own, but my Janome Hello Kitty -- the only sewing machine I ever bought new -- sees a lot of action. It's super easy to use and to maintain and happens to have a very nice stitch. I wind all my bobbins on it (except for Bernina bobbins--for some reason it won't accept those, nor my Featherweight bobbins--everything else). Since it doesn't need much oiling, I never have to worry about oil stains. Being bright pink, it's obvious when it's grimy and needs to be wiped down. An "A-/B+" machine.
The Machines I'd Like to Use More Often
Singer Featherweight 221
I used to use my Featherweight all the time. But I put it away and now I rarely take it out. Maybe it's time to take it out and leave it out. I even have a table for it, not that I have room for the table at this point. I happen to own five Featherweights at the moment, four blacks and a white. They're all wonderful machines: quiet, smooth, and simple to maintain. I need to use them more.
Singer 66 (I have two)
The Singer 66 with the red-eye decals came with my treadle table. I've since replaced it with a cleaner Singer 66 with lotus decals. They're both great machines. The 66 models tend to sell for much less than the 15-91 (or 201), though they sew just as well imo. They have plenty of harp space and are super easy to maintain. And "A."
The Singer 201 was Singer's top-of-the-line machine. It's the smoothest machine out there imo. Like the 15-91 it has a "potted" motor so no rubber belt. I do use mine some but I should use it more. It's another "A" machine.
This is another Singer classic, only the 401a one is a zig-zag and can do some embroidery stitches too. It's also a slant machine. I picked it up it at the Chelsea Flea Market a few years ago and the only reason I don't use it is -- like so many others -- it's just not set up at the moment. Fabulous machine though!
I love my little Grasshopper so much and I used to use it a lot more than I do now. I love the fold-down knee pedal (that folds up easily) and the whole design is just amazing. Arguably my most beautiful machine.
Oh, this post is getting long!
Here's what else I have, in brief, and there's nothing wrong with any of 'em, though some need a little TLC.
Kenmore 158.1030 (a 3/4 size machine)
Kenmore 158.141 (currently in a table)
Singer 128 (from 1910!)
Singer 15-30 (operates with a knee lever)
I think that's it -- have I missed anything? I believe that adds up to 19 machines. In addition, I have two toy machines (both gifts), and a serger (my beloved Brother 1034D).
I don't intend to buy any more machines (in case you're wondering) and who knows--I may downsize a bit. There's something about actually facing all of these at one time that's a little overwhelming. Whatchu got? Have a great day, everybody!
The museum is free. You can take plenty of photos, you are not allowed to take the garments themselves, tempting as that might be. If you arrive early, there are bathrooms in the museum if you need one.
We'll be grabbing lunch at 12:30 pm at Panera Bread, just half a block north of the museum. We generally occupy the entire upstairs eating area, so if you're coming late, expect to find us there. I hope you're all stoked for a pattern swap because I'm in major decluttering mode this year!
After lunch, at approximately 1:30 pm, we'll walk roughly ten blocks north for some good old-fashioned...
Arguably, the highlight of every MPB Day is our full-frontal attack on the Garment District. I have some new places on my shopping list I've very excited about and let me know if there's any special place you'd like us to visit. Some of my favorite stores, including New York Elegant, Fabrics & Fabrics, and Chic Fabric have new digs and we'll want to check them out for sure.
After shopping, we always make time for...
Around 5 pm, (depending on the weather) we'll either meet outside in Bryant Park (if it's not too cold) or in a nearby spacious cafe (to be determined). Inside or out, we'll rest our weary feet, re-hydrate, and enjoy a little fabric-shopping "Show-and-Tell" till it's time to say bid adieu.
I'll be reminding everyone when we get closer to the date, but please RSVP by sending an email to me at peterlappinnyc at gmail dot com, so I can keep track of who's coming. (If you know you'll be meeting us at lunch, please let me know that too.)
The MPB Day Winter Frolic is a free event, but you'll want to bring some money for lunch, souvenirs, and, naturally, fabric.
Friends, is there any more luscious fabric than pink wool tweed?
And speaking of luscious, is there any more alluring model than my identical cousin, the ever-youthful, effortlessly soigné Cathy Lane? I was so delighted when I found out that Cathy would be stopping in New York City for a few day on her way to visit daughter Simplicity at boarding school: evidently there have been some behavioral problems and Cathy is required to visit in person rather than merely text.
Anyway, Cathy agreed to model the project I've worked on all semester in my Haute Couture Construction class at FIT, taught by none other than Kenneth D. King. We all used the same pattern in the same size (an 8 as I recall) but we were able to choose our own fabric. I opted for a lovely raspberry pink wool tweed with flecks of other colors as well -- I believe this is generally referred to as Donegal tweed.
Luckily the skirt and jacket fit, otherwise we would have had to make alterations--not to the outfit, but to Cathy. She can't bend with that girdle-tight waistband but it certainly keeps her standing up straight.
As you can see, the jacket is dramatically shaped, echoing the New Look silhouette. It's fully interlined with horsehair canvas and the front and back neck facings also have multiple layers of hair cloth and quite a few shaping darts.
We do try to keep things interesting in our shoots, so I made sure Cathy has a change of shoes and hat, for a slightly different look. Below she's wearing a burgundy angora tam and beige slingback sandals.
Cathy prefers a bit more lift, however, so we switched mid-photo shoot to her favorite pink satin open-toe slippers.
I made Cathy a turban hat from a remnant of the skirt and jacket lining fabric from a late Forties Vogue pattern. Isn't it chic?!
It was all I could do to convince Cathy to go easy on the bling: she'd have a cocktail ring on every finger and probably a few toes if it were up to her. We pared accessories down to the minimum: earrings and a statement pin, simple patent leather handbag, and matching gloves.
I think you'll agree that pink truly flatters my cousin and the strong silhouette gives Cathy a bit more shape. You probably know by now that she's less of an hourglass and more of a grandfather clock.
In next semester's Haute Couture Collection class I'll be creating three separate garments from scratch; I think you can guess who my muse is likely to be!
My Haute Couture Construction Class at FIT, which started at the end of August, finishes this coming Tuesday (December 18). I've enjoyed it quite a bit, even though I was a little disappointed at first that we'd all be making the same skirt and jacket in the same size. Fortunately it's a size that fits my cousin Cathy (more or less) and I hope she'll be willing to model this raspberry wool tweed ensemble for you sometime soon.
You may recall that we started with the straight skirt, which has three decorative exterior darts on each side, side pockets, and a back slit. It also has a wide (4" at its widest) shaped waistband which is fully lined with my heavy poly-blend lining material I purchased at Metro Textiles (the wool tweed is from Mood).
As you can see in the top pic, the waistband has two hook-and-eye closures as well as belt loops that lie flat when the skirt is being worn but are loose enough to hang on a hanger when not being worn.
After we finished the skirt, we started on the jacket. Below is Kenneth King's finished sample. The jacket is completely interlined with hair canvas, including the sleeves (yes, I know: it makes for rather stiff sleeves). The front edges meet at center front and there are no closures nor are there pockets. Below the waistline the jacket flares quite dramatically.
Kenneth King didn't create the syllabus for the course, nor the pattern (unfortunately).
I used a lightweight hair canvas throughout. Due to the thickness of my fabric, rather than create a balanced dart, I cut mine open in the center, trimmed away the extra hair canvas, pressed, and stitched down the dart edges to keep things neat. Same for all the seam allowances. This can be done with a catch stitch or a pad-type stitch that keeps things in place equally well but uses less thread.
Needless to say, all pressing done from the right side is done with a press cloth. Mine is a piece of silk organza.
The facings are reinforced with both hair canvas and layers of hair cloth: the stiffness is necessary to keep the shape of the standing collar. In addition, there are shaping darts at the top of the facings, as well as a separate shaped back neck facing piece.
After attaching the facings, we sewed on the sleeves, shoulder pads (purchased), and sleeve heads (we made these ourselves out of our fashion fabric).
I originally lined my sleeves with the same lining I used for the skirt and the rest of the jacket but it proved too thick, so I replaced it with some poly charmeuse from my stash. I kicked myself for not doing this from the get-go since I had a feeling the thick poly wouldn't work. Oh, well...
On the left, the original sleeve lining; on the right, the thinner off-white charmeuse.
I wasn't sure what kind of cuff buttons I wanted (on this jacket they are only decorative, not functional). I ended up using a vintage Dritz kit to make covered buttons.
There's still pressing to be done but here's a peek at how the outfit looks so far.
And that's it! Hopefully I'll have a photo shoot to share before year's end. Happy sewing, everybody!
Readers, I can hardly believe it, but my little twin niece and nephew are about to turn two!
Now you would think I'd have sewn for them already but I haven't. They seem to have a huge wardrobe of mainly hand-me-down clothes given to them from friends of their parents (my brother and SIL). Plus they were so small and growing so fast that I just didn't feel the impulse.
Now that they're a little older and more aware of clothes, I'm started to get excited at the prospect.
Just two years ago...
A couple of years ago I purchased a large pattern lot on eBay that was mainly vintage children's patterns. I think I bought it because it included a vintage Forties dress pattern (see below). I still have them all and they range in size from 2 to teenage-size. There are some very cute patterns in the lot. What's cool about kids clothes is that they really haven't changed very much in the last 80 years or so; a little girl can still wear a Shirley Temple dress and not look like she's doing vintage style! Naturally, I also love the old illustrations.
A few of the boys patterns are also very sweet and wearable.
My favorite is this boy's jumpsuit pattern. So cute.
I think this is the dress pattern that inspired me to buy the lot -- it was in the same box.
My own aesthetic leans more toward even older patterns, especially the 1920's. I actually bought and made a muslin of this 1920's boys Mackinaw coat pattern. Love it.
I recently saw this romper pattern on eBay, which could be for a boy or a girl. I like it but I think I have to run this by the parents first.
In closing, I'm excited. I think I may start with something simple like a flouncy tulle skirt for my niece and superhero cape for my nephew (or vice versa).
Have you ever sewn for children and was it fun? Any recommendations?
I'm back at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) this fall!
This semester I'm taking the third (of five) classes in the Haute Couture certificate program. These are evening classes, not part of the full-time program though they are for credit -- i.e., we're graded.
You may recall that last year I took the first two classes in this program: Haute Couture Sewing Techniques and Haute Couture Embellishments (I realize I never blogged about the embellishments class: I was on a temporary blogging hiatus). Both were taught by the same (wonderful) professor, Dolores Lombardi.
This semester's construction class is taught by none other than the renown Kenneth D. King!
Must remind myself to say "Professor" and not "Kenneth"!
The class is focused solely on construction. We're all making the same wool skirt and ladies jacket in the same size, albeit in different fabrics. I'm making mine in a pink wool tweed I picked up a few years ago at Mood Fabrics. I bought my lining -- it had to be heavy poly, acetate, or silk, Kenneth King abhors rayon Bemberg! I found a lovely lining at Metro Textiles, below.
Kashi never takes a bad picture.
So far, we're about halfway through the skirt; the jacket will follow. We've cut our fabric and thread traced all the stitching lines with tailors tacks.
The thread tracing is done by simply folding back the paper pattern at the stitch line rather than using chalk first and then tracing the chalked line (which is what we did in my Ladies Tailoring class). This is just as well since my coarse wool won't hold chalk very well.
Even though the skirt will be lined, we're finishing our raw seam allowances with a Hong Kong finish made from bias strips cut from our lining. We machine stitch the bias to the raw edge, fold it over and secure it on the wrong side of our fabric with a running stitch instead of machine stitching in the ditch. This results in a softer seam finish. We're doing the same finish on the pockets bags. It comes out looking very neat.
The skirt has two back darts (on either side) and an invisible zipper at the center back. In front, there are also two two darts (on either side) which are stitched with decorate topstitching (I'm using Gutermann Mara 11) and sewn by hand. What looks like a third dart is actually the side pocket.
Immediately below (in brown wool twill) is Kenneth King's sample.
Here's mine so far.
You may or may not be familiar with an excellent invisible zipper insertion video Kenneth King did for "Threads" magazine. You can watch it here. It's the method we're using in class and it's fantastic. No more invisible zipper lumps. It's even done with a standard adjustable zipper foot instead of an invisible zipper foot. (You must first press flat the invisible zipper tape and baste it in place: no shortcuts.)
We should finish the skirt in the next few weeks before moving on to the jacket. It's a really great class and I'm learning a lot. My wool tweed is lovely to work with.
I'll post again about the class when the skirt's all finished.
I was excited to be invited to participate in the Style Maker Fabrics Fall Blog Tour this year -- I love this kind of challenge and it's always fun to see what other people make.
What Michelle Stoffel, the owner, has done -- brilliantly -- is to create a fall fabric collection. (You can view it here. ) There's a video of each fabric being described and handled (it's long but VERY informative) so you can really get a sense of what each fabric feels like before purchasing. Naturally you can also order swatches.
I wanted to try my hand again at color blocking and I chose a mix of solid cotton chambray flannels in three colors (blue, gray, and brown) with a touch of brown and mustard cotton plaid (cut on the bias and interfaced to prevent stretching). The plaid is actually quite beefy and would be perfect for a shirt or shirt jacket. The chambrays are as soft as cashmere and require gentle handling when sewing. (These aren't the stiffer chambrays one associates with denim or denim-look shirts.)
I loved the challenge of figuring out which color would go where. As you can see, I used primarily the blue and gray for the front and brown for the back. I opted for plaid accents on the inside collar stand, the inside cuffs, and a single front pocket (with sold pocket flap to tame it a bit). I love how it turned out.
I am particular proud of the outer collar, which I split in two: gray on one side, blue on the other!
Here are the actual fabrics I ordered. I used 1 yard of each of the solids and 1/2 yard of the plaid (44" wide) and there wasn't a whole lot left. If you're going with a single solid, I'd order three yards.
These are lovely fabrics to work with. Style Maker Fabric offers a wide selection of cotton flannels to choose from. (Check them all out here.) Not only are they beautiful, they are also well-priced. (Finding flannel plaids here in the NYC Garment District has always been something of a challenge.)
A little birdie has told me that tomorrow's Style Maker Fabrics Fall Blog Tour reveal will be Holly of the blog Holly Dolly Darling -- do check her out!
Readers, have you ever taken an online sewing class?
My hunch is that many (if not most) of you have. The past few years has seen a proliferation of sewing instruction on the internet, as well as a multitude of platforms that offer them. Originally these were individual classes one could purchase and stream for a set period, with downloadable materials included in the price as well as instructor feedback.
A few platforms that I am familiar with are Craftsy, Creativebug, and Skillshare. The popular model today is the monthly subscription service: you pay a fixed amount per month, and you can choose any class offered. (Crafty's subscription service is called Blueprint).
There is also a huge amount of online sewing instruction available on YouTube. Here's one of the more professional looking channels that I found recently, Made to Sew. And here's a free intro to sewing from Gretchen Hirsch.
Could be too much sewing instruction available online? I find the choices to be overwhelming and I wonder if a shakeout down the line might be inevitable. Or maybe there's room for everybody.
When I started sewing in 2009, there was very little online instruction available and most of it consisted of relatively primitive videos on YouTube. Of course, there were many DVD's available for purchase by well known instructors like Sandra Betzina, Kenneth King, and even older material (videos converted to DVD) by people like Margaret Islander and Roberta Carr. I learned to sew shirts using a Margaret Islander video that served me well, Shirts, Etc. (You can still purchase it at Islandersewing.com but it ain't cheap.)
When I purchased my first sewing machine, I depended on YouTube videos to figure out how to wind and insert a bobbin; I knew absolutely nothing about operating a sewing machine. I also relied on books, the Pattern Review discussion forums, and the aid of a long-distance sewing buddy whom I met via Pattern Review.
There are still lots of in-person classes available, schools and teachers who teach privately (including me!). Four years ago, I started taken classes at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Naturally this opportunity is only available to those living in or near New York City. People still travel great distances to study with Susan Khalje, Kenneth King, Thomas Von Nordheim, and others, if they can afford it. Aside of the benefits of a live instructor, it's fun to meet the other passionate sewers.
As far as online instruction, I did once sign up for a Craftsy class (lured by a promotional sale) that I never watched. Other than that, I have not availed myself of any of these streaming platforms. I have been approached to teach on them, however, but it hasn't happened yet.
In closing, a few questions:
1) Have you ever subscribed to a website that offered streaming sewing (or other craft) classes? How did you choose the particular class and what was the experience like?
2) Do you prefer a monthly subscription or a pay-per-class-taken model?
3) Other than the large number of class choices, is there a downside to online sewing instruction? Could it negatively impact the number of in-person sewing classes offered around the country (and indeed the world) or, perhaps instead, help to promote sewing instruction in all its forms?
4) Finally, if you've taught an online class yourself, are they a good deal for instructors, in terms of compensation and time spent offering follow-up feedback to students?
What's your take: Streaming Online Sewing Classes -- Yea or Nay? Jump in!
If you've been reading this blog for a while now you should, and here's why: it's the Kenmore 158.1030, virtually identical to the Kenmore 158.1040, which I used to own. I say used to because I loaned it to a friend a few years ago and the loan turned into a gift.
My old Kenmore 158.1040.
For those who aren't familiar with these models, they are 3/4-size machines designed by Charles Harrison, an African American industrial designer who worked at Sears for decades and created, among other iconic Mid-century designs, the View-master slide viewer.
These machines were manufactured in Japan by Jaguar-Maruzen in the 1970's and they were (nearly) all-metal, mechanical zigzaggers. The 1040 was a slightly more sophisticated model that included a removable quick-switch straight-stitch/zigzag plate (with a small hole on one end like one would find on a straight-stitch machine) and the ability to create stretch stitches like the honeycomb stitch (which requires the needle to stitch both forward and backward). Oddly enough, while the 1040 is a .8 amp machine, the 1030 is stronger -- 1.0 amp!
Both models came with an identical rose-embossed plastic clamshell case.
I found the 158.1030 at a local street fair this weekend and paid $50 for it, a very good price for this series. It was in excellent mechanical and cosmetic shape. It's not unusual to find the plastic pieces making up the extension table (which contains a concealed accessories box) to be badly discolored.
Naturally, as soon as I brought the machine home, I opened it up, de-linted it and oiled it where necessary. I love the fact that it was designed to provide easy access to the insides: would that Bernina's were so easy to get inside of.
Along with the zigzag stitch, the 1030 can do a blind hem stitch, a four-part buttonhole, and something they call a mending stitch.
The pedal is heavy, high quality, and electronic.
Included with my machine were a few extra feet (including an invisible zipper foot), two screw drivers, extra bobbins, and even extra needles.
Along with the 158.1040 and 1030, Kenmore also manufactured a 1020, a 1050, and a slightly larger 1060 (which you can read about here.)
I'm so happy to have found this machine, friends; I'd always regretted parting with my 1040. I love the design, the portability (it weighs roughly 17 lbs but is easy to carry in the clamshell case) and the excellent design.
You can see a short Instagram video of me using the machine here.
Have a great day, everybody!
Original Sears catalog listing for the 158.1040 from the mid-Seventies. It wasn't inexpensive.
This month, I find myself color blocking once again. I was invited by Style Maker Fabrics to create a garment using some of their new fall fabrics, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to challenge myself to create another color-blocked shirt. This time I'm using three different shades of cotton chambray and a bold cotton flannel plaid of roughly the same weight.
Part of the fun of color blocking is planning which colors are going to go where. I want the shirt to look balanced but not boring.
I dug up some images of color-blocked shirts online for inspiration. I think if you're doing color blocking, it's a good idea to have a center button placket to break the colors up a bit and create a sense of symmetry. On the shirt below, with no center placket, doesn't it look like there's too much green plaid and not enough red plaid? I guess you could argue that the red plaid pocket balances that out a bit. Still, to my eye it looks funky.
On the shirt below (Sean John for Macy's), I think there's better balance and I like that the color blocks break up the left and right fronts.
Here's a very different take on color blocking. I think the result is elegant though the sleeves look too long.
Here's where things stand with my shirt so far. I decided to use blue on one side and gray on the other with a brown center placket.
The back is brown, the outer shoulder yoke is gray, and the right sleeve is blue.
The left sleeve is gray. Both cuffs are blue and lined with the flannel plaid cut on the bias.
How will all of this look together? You'll have to tune in later this month to find out!
Underarm seam: I love when all the seams align correctly!
In closing, are you a fan of color blocking? Do you follow any particular method or just go with your gut (or rather, eye)?